Women in the Workplace

Women in the Workplace

While women are succeeding in a number of professions, they continue to face significant barriers to entry and participation.

Learning Objectives

Illustrate two barriers to women’s equal participation in the workforce

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A gender role comprises a set of social and behavioral norms that are attritibuted to men and women and that are expected to be adhered to in social settings and interpersonal relationships.
  • Historically, the division of labor has been organized according to gender roles and, consequently, certain types of activity are considered more appropriate for men while others are allotted to women.
  • Some significant barriers to participation in the workforce women face include network discrimination and access to education, training and capital.

Key Terms

  • Network Discrimination: A form of discrimination in which groups hire individuals from their same group, or network, rather than reaching outside to new networks.
  • Gender Role: A set of social and behavioral norms that are generally considered appropriate for either a man or a woman in a social or interpersonal relationship.

Historically, the division of labor has been organized along gender lines. Gender roles – a set of social and behavioral norms about what is considered appropriate for either a man or woman in a social or interpersonal relationship – have affected the specialization of work in both agricultural and industrial societies.

A number of factors over the past few decades have resulted in women entering and flourishing in a variety of different professions. Despite the enormous progress women around the world have made in pursuing careers, there remain significant obstacles women confront in the workplace. The glass ceiling and occupational sexism reflect the restrictions on women as they try to enter and rise in the ranks of the workforce. While occupational sexism and the glass ceiling will be explored in the section ‘ Inequalities of work,” what follows is a discussion of barriers to equal participation in the work force, including access to education and training, access to capital, network discrimination and other factors.

How to Supervise Women (1944): A film to teach men how to supervise women in the workplace in the 1940s.

Access to Education and Training

A number of occupations became “professionalized” through the 19th and 20th centuries, gaining regulatory bodies and requiring particular higher educational requirements. As women’s access to higher education was often limited, this effectively restricted women’s participation in these professionalizing occupations. For instance, women were completely forbidden access to Cambridge University until 1868, and were encumbered with a variety of restrictions until 1987 when the university adopted an equal opportunity policy. Numerous other institutions in the United States and Western Europe began opening their doors to women over the same period of time, but access to higher education remains a significant barrier to women’s full participation in the workforce. Even where access to higher education is formally available, women’s access to the full range of occupational choices can be limited.

Access to Capital

Women’s access to occupations requiring capital outlays is also hindered by their unequal access (statistically) to capital; this affects individuals who want to pursue careers as entrepreneurs, farm owners and investors. Numerous micro-loan programs attempt to redress this imbalance, targeting women for loans or grants to establish start-up businesses or farms. For example, while research has shown that women cultivate more than half the world’s food, most of the work is family subsistence labor, with family property often legally owned by men in the family.

Network Discrimination

Part of the problem keeping women out of the highest paying, most prestigious positions is that they have historically not held these positions. As a result, recruiters for high- status jobs are predominantly white males, and tend to hire similar people in their networks. Their networks are made up of mostly white males from the same socio-economic status, which helps perpetuate their over-representation in the best jobs.

Other Social and Structural Factors

Through a process known as “employee clustering,” employees tend to be grouped both spatially and socially with those of a similar status job. Women are no exception and tend to be grouped with other women making comparable amounts of money. They compare wages with women around them and believe their salaries are fair because they are average. Some women may be unaware of just how vast the inequality is.

Furthermore, women tend to be less assertive and confrontational than men. Some have suggested that one of the factors contributing to the higher proportion of raises going to men is the simple fact that men tend to ask for raises more often than women, and are more aggressive when doing so. Women and me are socialized at young ages into these roles. School-age boys and girls have been noted as enacting the same aggressive and passive characteristics in educational settings that we see in adults in the workplace.

An additional issue that contributes to income inequality by gender is that women are much more likely than men to take “breaks” in their careers to have children (due to personal choice or as a result of circumstances). When a woman in this scenario re-enters the workforce, she may be offered a smaller salary or a lower position that she might have merited had she remained in the workforce.

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Working Women: The Women into Building Housing Showcase is an Australian project designed to promote women in the construction business. The Building Housing Showcase site was constructed by an all-female team.

Inequalities of Work

Women are frequently treated unequally at work, often through sexual harassment and/or wage discrimination.

Learning Objectives

Describe two typical manifestations of occupational sexism

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Occupational sexism includes any discriminatory practices or statements based on a person’s sex.
  • One typical manifestation of occupational sexism is sexual harassment –-the intimidation, bullying, teasing, or coercion of a sexual nature or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.
  • Wage discrimination, also known as the gender pay gap, is a phenomenon in which women are consistently paid less for performing the same tasks as men.
  • The glass ceiling is an institutional barrier that prevents both women and minorities from advancing beyond a certain point in the workplace.

Key Terms

  • gender pay gap: The gap in wages between women and men, even when women perform the same tasks as men.
  • glass ceiling: An unwritten, uncodified barrier to further promotion or progression for a member of a specific demographic group.
  • pink-collar worker: A worker who performs work in the service sector that is considered to be stereotypically female.

Despite flooding the workplace since the 1970s and 1980s, women still face many institutional challenges to equality in the workplace. The most obvious and publicly condemned example of inequality in the workplace is the prevalence of occupational sexism, or any discriminatory practice, statement, or action based on a person’s sex that occur in a place of employment. One typical manifestation of occupational sexism is sexual harassment–-the intimidation, bullying, teasing, or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Sexual harassment may be a particular offer extended to an individual (i.e., a promotion in return for sexual rewards) or the general atmosphere created within a workplace. If a workplace engenders an environment that is hostile to women, that workplace is in violation of employment law that bans sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment is not synonymous with workplace inequality. Legally, sexual harassment can be directed by one person of either gender towards another person of either gender. However, inequalities in the workplace typically refer to institutional barriers placed in the way of professional success for women.

Beyond sexual harassment, the most obvious instance of inequality in the workplace is wage discrimination. Frequently referred to as the gender pay gap, this phenomenon observes that women are consistently paid less for performing the same tasks as men. While the exact figure varies in response to a variety of factors, there is little debate that women earn less than men. Women are estimated to earn 76% of what men earn for the same work. In other words, women make 76 cents for every dollar men earn for performing the same task. Part of the pay gap can be attributed to the fact that, more often than men, women tend to engage in part-type work or work in lower-paid industries. This explanation of the pay gap invokes the notion of the pink-collar worker. A “pink-collar worker” is a term for designating the types of jobs in the service industry that are considered to be stereotypically female, such as working as a waitress, nurse, teacher, or secretary. The term attempts to distinguish this type of work from blue-collar and white-collar work. However, not even this acknowledgement explains the entirety of the wage gap, for even women working full time in higher-paid industries earn less than their male colleagues.

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Earning Disparities between Men and Women: The above graph shows the average earnings of workers by education and sex.

The larger schema into which the gender pay gap fits is the notion of a “glass ceiling” for women in the workplace. The term refers to institutional barriers for which there is little hope for legal redress and, thus, appear to be as invisible as glass but that nevertheless limit the rise of women in the workplace. Certainly, the pay gap and other economic issues play into the notion of a glass ceiling, but the term also refers to more general power dynamics. During the 2008 American presidential election, Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign was considered to contribute to helping shatter the glass ceiling for women in the United States.

Family and Gender Issues

Social expectations that women manage childcare contribute to the gender pay gap and other limitations in professional life for women.

Learning Objectives

Recall at least three reasons why there might be a gender pay gap

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Because women are expected to handle childcare, they choose jobs with greater flexibility and lower pay.
  • The gender pay gap has been attributed to differences in personal and workplace characteristics between women and men (education, hours worked, occupation etc.), as well as direct and indirect discrimination in the labor market (gender stereotypes, customer and employer bias etc.).
  • Health care for children and flexible scheduling that can help women with the childcare for which they are still overwhelmingly responsible, may take priority over pay.

Key Terms

  • gender pay gap: The gap in wages between women and men, even when women perform the same tasks as men.

In the United States, there is an observable gender pay gap, such that women are compensated at lower rates for equal work as men. The gender pay gap is measured as the ratio of female to male median yearly earnings among full-time, year-round (FTYR) workers. The female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.77 in 2009, meaning that, in 2009, female FTYR workers earned 77% as much as male FTYR workers. Women’s median yearly earnings relative to men’s rose rapidly from 1980 to 1990 (from 60.2% to 71.6%), and less rapidly from 1990 to 2000 (from 71.6% to 73.7%) and from 2000 to 2009 (from 73.7% to 77.0%).

This discrepancy is frequently attributed to women’s desire to have a family life. Inequalities in professional success are sometimes attributed to women taking maternity leave after having children. Further, women are accused of intentionally seeking out jobs with fewer hours and lower pay in order to be more flexible for their children. Economists who have investigated the gender pay gap have also noted that women are more likely to choose jobs based on factors other than pay. The gender pay gap has also been attributed to differences in personal and workplace characteristics between women and men (education, hours worked, occupation etc.) as well as direct and indirect discrimination in the labor market (gender stereotypes, customer and employer bias etc.).

Health care for children and a flexible schedule that enables women to take care of their children for which they are still overwhelmingly responsible, may take priority over pay. Moreover, many women are disinclined to take jobs that that require travel or are hazardous. On average, women take more time off and work fewer hours, often due to the unequal distribution of childcare and domestic labor. Family obligations tend to pull down on women’s earnings as they proceed through the life course and have more children. The earnings gap tends to widen considerably when men and women are in their early to mid-thirties, or when people start to have children, and reaches its widest point when men and women are in their fifties. The demands of women having to manage work and family lives have become an obsession of American popular culture.

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Mother and Ssons from the Akha Hill Tribe: Traditionally, women are expected to stay at home and take care of the children, while men earn wages to financially support their families.

Education and Unequal Treatment in the Classroom

Women have historically been disadvantaged in education, and learning has often been segregated along gender lines.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the role of women in the classroom, both in the past and in the present

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Disparities in education have shifted in response to various historical factors, and women are now earning more graduate degrees than men.
  • Women’s colleges were established in order to educate women, and many of these colleges later merged with male universities.
  • Since the early 1990s, more women have been enrolled in college than men.

Key Terms

  • coordinate colleges: Women’s colleges paired with men’s colleges, creating a link between the two schools, but keeping education gender segregated.
  • coeducational (coed): A college that has both male and female students.
  • Seven Sisters colleges: A group of the most famous women’s colleges in the United States, including Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, Radcliffe, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard Colleges.

Higher education has historically been regarded as a male domain. In early American history, women were sent to tutors and then to female seminaries, though training largely emphasized ladylike accomplishments, such as piano-playing, needlepoint, and literature, over serious academic education. Even as women’s education became more robust, it was considered to be distinct from men’s education. By the mid-1800s, several women’s colleges had been established, and many were coupled with men’s universities as coordinate colleges. In the 1970s and 1980s, some of these coordinate colleges were absorbed into the larger university to create coeducational (coed) universities with both men and women. The most famous women’s colleges in the United States were known as the Seven Sisters colleges and included Mount Holyoke College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, Smith College, Radcliffe College, Bryn Mawr College, and Barnard College. Today, five still operate as women’s-only colleges, Radcliffe no longer accepts students, and Vassar is coeducational.

Despite the integration of men and women in university classrooms, women continue to face gender -based disparities and biases. To this day, math and science are often thought to be, “male” fields, while subjects in the humanities are considered to be the more natural province of women. Of course, particular subjects are not inherently “male” or “female. ” However, gender norms are often informally inculcated at an early age, when elementary school teachers may encourage boys to pursue math and science and not do the same for girls. Further, boys generally receive more positive and negative attention in the classroom than do girls; as a result, the school environment can unintentionally become male-centered.

All of this, however, is changing. As has long been acknowledged, females now earn higher grades than males, and since the early 1990s, more women than men have been enrolled in college. Recently, women have also begun to outnumber men in graduate schools.

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Women in Science: A group of girls and boys working on a science project together at Cheltenham Elementary School, Cheltenham, PA, USA

Gender Inequality in Politics

Women have had to fight for equal treatment in politics in the United States by winning the right to vote and a seat at the political table.

Learning Objectives

Infer, from the historical struggle for womens’ equal treatment in politics, why gender stereotypes and barriers to equal political participation still exist in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote.
  • Gender stereotypes about female politicians and voters still exist.
  • Since gaining the right to vote in 1920, women have worked in many levels of government in the United States. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan named Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female Supreme Court justice. Currently, three of the nine sitting justices are women.
  • Despite the increasing presence of women in American politics, gender stereotypes still exist. Data from the 2006 American National Election Studies Pilot Study showed that voters of both sexes, regardless of their political persuasions, expected men to perform better as politicians than women.
  • Because gender is considered to be a master status, “women” are considered to be a political demographic. In other words, “women” are supposed to have certain political priorities (usually those having to do with children and education) that unite all women as a voting bloc.

Key Terms

  • voting bloc: A group of voters that are strongly motivated by a specific common concern or group of concerns to the point that such specific concerns tend to dominate their voting patterns, causing them vote together in elections.
  • women’s suffrage: The right of women to vote.
  • master status: A social status that is the primary, socially-identifying characteristic of an individual, such as being the queen.

Political Gender Inequality

Even in democratic societies in which gender equality is legally mandated, gender discrimination occurs in politics, both in regards to presumptions about political allegiances that fall along gender lines, and disparate gender representation within representative democracies. Historically, this was even more true when women were neither considered full citizens, nor could not vote.

This section will trace the historical development of women achieving the right to vote and will then consider recent developments as women have achieved political power as representatives, in addition to being members of the voting public. Finally, we will consider assumptions made about women’s political leanings on the basis of gender.

Voting Rights for Women

Before 1920, women did not have a national right to vote in the United States. Women’s suffrage, the movement to achieve the female vote, was won gradually at state and local levels during the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, which provided:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

To appreciate the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, one must look back to the mid-nineteenth century. The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 was a single step in a broad and continuous effort by women to gain a greater proportion of social, civil, and moral rights for themselves; but was viewed by many as a revolutionary beginning to the struggle for women’s equality.

Women’s suffrage took a back seat to the Civil War and Reconstruction, but America’s entry into World War I re-initiated a vigorous push. When President Woodrow Wilson announced that America needed to enter the European battlefield in order to protect democracy, women were up in arms. The National Women’s Party became the first cause to picket outside of the White House, with banners comparing President Wilson to his German adversary, Kaiser Wilhelm. The Nineteenth Amendment was passed the year following the Treaty of Paris, which ended World War I.

Women in Recent Politics

Since gaining the fundamental right to vote in 1920, women have worked in many levels of government in the United States. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan named Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female Supreme Court justice. She was later joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and has been succeeded by Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Currently, three of the nine sitting justices are women. In 1996, President Bill Clinton appointed Madeline Albright to be the first female Secretary of State, a post later given to Condoleezza Rice by President George W. Bush in 2005. Hillary Clinton is the current Secretary of State.

Women in politics took center stage in the 2008 election. In the primary season, New York Senator Hillary Clinton ran against future President Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. Although Clinton was the twenty-fifth woman to run for U.S. President, she was the first female candidate to have a significant chance of winning the nomination of a major party and the general election.

As such, remarks about her gender and appearance came to the fore. Commentators noted that because she was a woman, Clinton had a sexual power that would make her too intimidating to win the national election. Comments about Clinton’s body, cleavage, choice of pantsuit, and speculation about cosmetic surgery popped up over airwaves. Many wondered if the same fixation on a candidate’s body and style would happen to a male candidate. Commentary about the role of gender in the 2008 presidential election further snowballed when Republican presidential nominee John McCain chose female Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate.

Gender Stereotyping

Despite the increasing presence of women in American politics, gender stereotypes still exist. Data from the 2006 American National Election Studies Pilot Study confirmed that both male and female voters, regardless of their political persuasions, expected men to perform better as politicians than women. The only deviation in this data had to do with competency in areas such as education that are typically perceived as women’s domains and voters therefore trusted women politicians more.

Because gender is considered to be a master status, or a primary trait around which individuals identify, “women” are considered to be a political demographic. In other words, “women” are supposed to have certain political priorities (usually those having to do with children and education) that unite all women as a voting bloc, or a group of individuals who tend to vote in the same way.

For this reason, political strategists see the “female vote” as one to be won. As such, one will see organizations uniting the female demographic and political priorities, such as “Women for Obama” or “Women for Romney. ”

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Lucretia Coffin Mott: Mott, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, organized the Seneca Falls Convention in 1948, effectively launching the women’s civil rights movement in the United States.

Job Discrimination

Despite legal protections, job discrimination against women still exists in the workplace.

Learning Objectives

List the forms of discrimination that women may face on the job

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Some women are subjected to sexual harassment and a gender pay gap.
  • Stereotypes about the type of work that women can do are commonplace.
  • Pink-collar work is a term designating the types of jobs in the service industry that are considered to be stereotypically female, such as working as a waitress, nurse, teacher or secretary.

Key Terms

  • sexual harassment: intimidation, bullying, teasing, or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.
  • pink-collar worker: A worker who performs work in the service sector that is considered to be stereotypically female.
  • wage discrimination: When women earn less than men for performing the same tasks.

Even though there are regulations that are used to promote equality within the workplace, occupational sexism, or any discriminatory practice, statement, or action based on a person’s sex that occurs in a place of employment, is still rampant. The most archetypical manifestation of occupational sexism is sexual harassment, or the intimidation, bullying, teasing, or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Sexual harassment may be a particular offer extended to an individual (i.e., a promotion in return for sexual rewards) or the generally atmosphere created within a workplace. If a workplace engenders an environment that is hostile to women, that workplace is in violation of the employment law that bans sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment is not synonymous with workplace inequality. Legally, sexual harassment can be directed by one person of either gender towards another person of either gender. Thus, sexual harassment is broader than the simple creation of a professional environment that is not welcoming to women. Women can perpetrate sexual harassment; men can be victims of sexual harassment. However, inequalities in the workplace typically refer to institutional barriers placed in the way of professional success for women.

Beyond sexual harassment, the most obvious instance of inequality in the workplace is wage discrimination. Frequently referred to as the gender pay gap, this phenomenon observes that women are consistently paid less for performing the same tasks as men. Women are estimated to earn 76% of what men earn for the same work. In other words, women make 76 cents for every dollar men earn for performing the same task.

Part of the pay gap can be attributed to the fact that, more often than men, women tend to engage in part-time work or work in lower paid industries. This explanation of the pay gap invokes the notion of the pink-collar worker. A pink-collar worker is a term for designating the types of jobs in the service industry that are considered to be stereotypically female, such as working as a waitress, nurse, teacher or secretary. The term attempts to distinguish this type of work from blue-collar and white-collar work. However, not even this acknowledgement explains the entirety of the wage gap, for even women working full-time in higher paid industries earn less than their male colleagues.

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Restoring the Right to Equal Pay between Men and Women: President Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 into law.

Gender Inequality in Health Care

Gender discrimination in health care manifests itself primarily as the difference that men and women pay for their insurance premium.

Learning Objectives

Identify three ways in which gender inequality in health care manifests itself in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Gender inequality in health care presents itself as women have to pay higher insurance premiums than men.
  • Another form of gender inequality in health care is the different rates at which men and women are insured; more women than men are insured in the United States.
  • Gender inequalities in health care also revolve around different medicines are covered by insurance companies. For example, the contraceptive mandate demonstrates gender inequities in the different medicine that insurance companies are willing to cover for male and female patients.
  • Gender inequality in health care might be reduced under President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which outlaws gender discrimination in health care. It would require insurance companies to charge men and women the same rate for health insurance.

Key Terms

  • contraceptive mandate: A government requirement that health plans—including those offered by religious institutions—offer contraception to policy holders.
  • insurance premium: The amount charged to a policy holder for a certain amount of insurance coverage.

Assessing gender equity in the health care systems, particularly in the United States, depends heavily upon what factors one considers best to analyze equality.

The Insured

More women than men are insured in the United States. In one study of a population group in a low-income urban community, 86 percent of women reported having access to health insurance through publicly assisted or private options, while only 74 percent of men reported having any health insurance at all. Trends in which women report higher rates of health insurance coverage is not unique to urban, low-income, American populations.

Studies that address percentages of each gender covered by insurance only speak to one measure of inequality in health care.

Insurance Premiums

Gender discrimination in health care manifests primarily as the amount of money one pays for insurance premiums—the amount paid per month in order to be covered by insurance. Women statistically pay far higher premiums than men. This is largely due to regulations of private insurance companies. Fewer than ten state governments prohibit gender discrimination in insurance premiums. For the rest of the union, insurance companies consistently charge their female policy owners more than their male counterparts.

Gender discrimination in health care could be changing in the United States. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (informally called “Obamacare”), passed under President Barack Obama in 2010, insurance companies would be prohibited from charging men and women differently. To rationalize gendered rates, insurance companies claim that women use more medical services than men because of pregnancy visits.

Women’s Health

The Obama administration faced another controversy over gender equity in healthcare in 2012 with the administration’s contraceptive mandate. In January of 2012, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, announced that all health care plans were required to provide coverage for contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The effective meaning of Secretary Sebelius’ announcement was that contraceptives are considered by the Obama administration to be a requisite component of health care.

The premise of the contraceptive mandate demonstrates present inequities in the American health care industry for male and female patients. Whereas services for male reproductive health, such as Viagra, are considered to be a standard part of health care, women’s reproductive health services are called into question. In the context of the 2012 contraceptive mandate debate, health care professionals ‘ assessments that contraception is an integral component for women’s health care, regardless of sexual activity, went largely unaddressed. Instead, insurance coverage of contraception was framed as a government subsidy for sexual activity.This framing revealed inherent social inequalities for women in the domain of sexual health.

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Obama Responds to the Passing of the Health Care Bill: President Barack Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden and senior staff, respond in the Roosevelt Room of the White House as the House passes the health care reform bill. This bill is seen as a vital step in combating gender inequalities in the health care system.